Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Patricius: Beacon for Christ

“I am Patrick - a sinner - the most unsophisticated and unworthy among all the faithful of God.  Indeed, to many I am the most despised.”   

These are the words of St. Patrick from the beginning of his Confession, written nearly sixteen centuries ago in defense of his mission in Ireland.  Often obscured by legends, the man born Patricius in 4th century Roman Britian, has a story worth knowing; a quality of humility worth emulating.

I’ve recently finished Philip Freeman’s biography, St. Patrick of Irelend, and although I would’ve enjoyed references to support his claims, I thought it was a very thorough look at the medieval world in which Patrick lived.  I didn’t realize the corroborative evidence bearing witness to Patrick’s life was so limited.  In my mind, St. Patrick is the one who drove snakes from Ireland, used the shamrock to teach his converts about the Holy Trinity and displayed fierce courage in the face of powerful druids. 

What I gained through this book and also an article by Mary Cagney in Christian History magazine is that much can be discerned about Patrick’s life through the writings he has left us.  Not only do we have his lengthy Confession  but we also have a letter addressed to the "Soldiers of Coroticus"  which provides a window into Patrick's passion for the sanctity of life and his fury at those who slaughtered new Christian converts.  He boldly condemns their murderous slave campaign calling them, “citizens of Hell!” 

What is remarkable to this 21st century gal is that Patrick’s letters survived the Dark Ages and were preserved for over 1500 years, inspiring followers of Christ for generation upon generation.  Patrick survived a horrifying experience as a young man when he was taken captive by Irish raiders gathering slaves.  He was not yet 16 years old when his privileged life of nobility was transformed into a bleak existence in a distant and savage land.   Not only did Patrick survive the years of slavery, but this period proved to be fertile ground for his spiritual awakening.  His weak bonds with God became stronger through trials. 

I frequently need to be reminded to rejoice for my trials because, honestly, I like comfort rather than distress, excess rather than dearth.  It is from St. Patrick that I can draw inspiration to take the high road, to crave spiritual growth above complacency.  For one day I hope to say that someone else knew God because of the fruit He produced in me.   

Patrick wrote at the end of his Confession: “My final prayer is that all of you who believe in God and respect him- whoever you may be who read this letter that Patrick the unlearned sinner wrote from Ireland - that none of you will ever say that I in my ignorance did anything for God.  You must understand - because it is the truth - that it was all the gift of God.” 

A gift of God that continues to reach christians everywhere.


Fr. Andrew said...

If you ever get a chance to visit Downpatrick in Northern Ireland, it's well worth it.

amy said...

I certainly plan to, along with visiting Iona and the Scottish Highlands.

What did you enjoy most about Downpatrick?

Fr. Andrew said...

It's where St. Patrick is buried, along with Ss. Columba and Brigid (in the same grave). They're buried deep under a hill on which a cathedral stands. (There's a stone on top of the hill marked "Patrick," but that's not really his gravestone.) It's a lovely spot.

There's also a fine museum there dedicated to St. Patrick which was surprisingly good.

In any event, it's a charming little town.

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